Next week the state Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case of whether a contract can be imposed on a farming company, whether they like it or not. And, the online sniping ahead of time is filling social media.
The case is Gerawan Farming, Inc. vs. Agricultural Labor Relations Board and will be heard by the California Supreme Court on Tuesday (Sep. 5). According to official court documents, three issues will be examined:
Does the statutory “Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation” process (Lab. Code, §§ 1164-1164.13) violate the equal protection clauses of the state and federal Constitutions?
Do the “Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation” statutes effect an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power?
May an employer oppose a certified union’s request for referral to the “Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation” process by asserting that the union has “abandoned” the bargaining unit?
Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation is the process that a contract can be imposed when there is a labor impasse, stemming from a 2002 state law. Gerawan has had decades-long strife with the United Farm Workers.
“We hope the Supreme Court upholds the appeal court ruling that it’s unconstitutional to force a contract on us and our employees against their will. We want what our employees want, and that is for them to have the right to choose,” Dan Gerawan from his namesake company based in Fresno County told GV Wire.
UFW President Arturo Rodriguez declined comment about Tuesday’s hearing.
It has long been Gerawan’s narrative that after the UFW unionized workers in 1990, a contract never happened and the union abandoned its workers until returning in 2012.
“The union wants to divert attention away from the massive, historic worker protests against UFW’s representation. The Gerawan employees want to choose for themselves whether the UFW can bind them to a contract. Gerawan favors choice, the UFW does not,” Gerawan states on its website.
From the period of 1995-2012, Gerawan’s online timeline of events says: “UFW does not contact Gerawan whatsoever.” Gerawan says that the UFW never sent any correspondence, filed any unfair labor practice charges or accessed fields to visit the employees.
“UFW had no contact with us or our employees for 18 years. No phone calls, no letters, no faxes, and no access taken to our fields. Meanwhile, they lost 90% of their members. Suddenly, they return to tell the industry’s highest-paid employees to pay UFW to keep their jobs, and they will not have a choice,” Dan Gerawan said.
When UFW made its request for a new contract in 2012, Gerawan states that “99% of current Gerawan employees were not employed at Gerawan in 1990 and did not vote to elect the UFW, Gerawan agrees in good faith to bargaining sessions.
“Then, an agency staffed with UFW activists dictates a so-called contract to force on our employees against their will. Neither we nor the employees negotiated the so-called contract and we are not given a choice. We want the Supreme Court to give our employees the same rights that all other workers in our state and nation have. That is, the right to choose. The ALRB and UFW appealed the unanimous court decision because they do not want our employees to have a choice.”
On Nov. 5, 2013, Gerawan employees voted to decertify UFW. Those ballots have been contested ever since and the results are unknown to this day.
In a written response to GV Wire, UFW spokesman Marc Grossman vehemently denies Gerawan’s version of history. He calls the abandonment claim “bogus” and “no standing in law (the employer argument has repeatedly been rejected over the years in both ALRB and court decisions) or fact.”
Grossman notes the long history of violations of labor law and ALRB decisions that have gone against Gerawan.
In a news release, the UFW said, “It is long-established law that a union remains certified as bargaining representative until workers—and only workers—vote to decertify it. At the time of the law’s passage in 2002, Gerawan was one of the 243 companies where farm workers voted for the UFW but the companies never agreed to contracts. In any case, the UFW contends Gerawan’s claims of abandonment are bogus.”
UFW has posted its timeline of events in the battles versus Gerawan. They noted the labor battles that have often spilled into courts.
According to their timeline, Gerawan workers voted UFW as its representatives despite many dirty tricks by Gerawan. The vote is certified two years later in 1992. After three years of negotiations, contract talks fail and break off in early 1995.
The union describes the time from 1995-2002 as: “UFW continues working with Gerawan workers to improve their working conditions, all while the ALRB stops enforcing the law and provides no support for continued organizing.”
From 2001-2012, the UFW describes its efforts “for development and passage of Mandatory Mediation law. Farm workers from across the state, including Gerawan workers, march on the state capitol, urging the Governor to sign the bill into law.”
In 2004, the UFW says it opened an office in Reedley to help “re-organize Gerawan workers.” They continue to accuse Gerawan of dirty tactics by sending out mailers to farm workers “threatening workers with job loss if they support the union.”
Then, on Oct. 12, 2012, “The UFW sends another request for negotiations to Gerawan.” The rest of the timeline details its continuing fight on union negotiations, the MMC and the events leading up to the Supreme Court hearing.
“Gerawan at every step resisted, challenged and delayed bargaining and then the mandatory mediation process while at the same time engaged in an illegal, scorched-earth, multi-million-dollar anti-union campaign aimed at decertifying—or getting rid of — the UFW. ALRB prosecutors filed multiple complaints (tantamount to indictments) against Gerawan for egregious violations of the law,” the UFW said in a news release to the media.
Regarding the 2013 decertification vote, UFW says the ALRB dismissed it “after a thorough investigation exposed widespread forgeries of worker signatures and illegal company support for the decertification drive. The ALRB board allowed a second election petition to proceed, but ordered the ballots impounded pending adjudication of outstanding formal complaints against the company issued by ALRB prosecutors.”
Pick Justice is an advocacy group with an active social media presence. It was founded by Silvia Lopez, an outspoken Gerawan employee who was the impetus to remove UFW as the union of record. They say they are the voice for nearly 6,000 farm workers.
On its website, Pick Justice describes itself as “concerned citizens who support the rights of workers to choose whether or not they want to have a union represent them. We are standing up for workers who are victimized by a politicized government agency.”
“Pick Justice is a movement,” spokesman Jesse Rojas describes “to voice their opinion, to get media exposure so they can be heard as to their struggle with the ALRB and UFW.” Rojas says the group has grown and expanded to other farm employees around the state at are also having issues with UFW.
Many of their posts are critical of UFW and the ALRB and often evoke images of UFW founder and labor leader Cesar Chavez. “We are not anti-union,” Rojas explains. “There is nothing wrong with unions. The problem in general is when unions like UFW become corrupt and are run by people who are not the members, not the employees.”
Rojas says employees should have the right to approve or not approve a union, a right he feels denied to Gerawan employees.
In the lead up to Tuesday’s court hearing, Pick Justice has accused UFW of hiring people to help protest at the court building in San Francisco. Pick Justice plans their own court rally as well. Fresno-area conservative watchdog Tal Cloud is helping fund the buses to San Francisco.
Pick Justice also accused UFW of lying about a petition posted online to support the union in the Gerawan case. They allege UFW used an image and story of a Gerawan employee named “Guadalupe Martinez.”
The issue also concerned Gerawan. In a letter written by the company’s attorney, David Schwarz, to UFW leadership, he says Martinez left the company in 2013. The letter also challenges statements that Gerawan broke labor laws regarding the implementation of a labor contract and that a contract was voted for in the first place.
UFW officials did not comment to GV Wire on this specific claim.
UFW officials note that Pick Justice is tied with a group called Center for Worker Freedom (CWF), whose mission is to “warning the public about the causes and consequences of unionization.” The group itself is a unit of Americans for Tax Reform, founded by conservative taxpayer advocate Grover Norquist.
“Gerawan is being underwritten by a group that has ties to the radical right. You have some of the biggest corporate interest in America saying they represent farmworkers. That’s ludicrous,” UFW spokesman Marc Grossman.
Rojas confirmed the relationship to GV Wire. “(CWF Executive Director) Matt Patterson was an individual that reached out to me…and said ‘we want to help in any way possible.’ Of course we want the help, any help we can. We would love if the UFW, who says is the official representative of the Gerawan workers (to help).”
Rojas says that Patterson helped with public relations, setting up billboards and organizing rallies.
Tuesday in San Francisco
The contested decertification vote is not an issue that will be heard at the Supreme Court on Tuesday. Unlike TV show “Law & Order,” a decision is highly unlikely to be made five seconds after arguments end, no less on the same day.
David Schwarz is scheduled to argue the case on behalf of Gerawan. He will have 30 minutes to present his argument. Benjamin M. Glickman from the Office of Attorney General, will appear for the ALRB for 20 minutes; Mario Martinez will represent for UFW for 10 minutes.
“It is a privilege to defend before our state’s highest court the core principle of our labor law and our democracy: the right to choose who will speak for us. We look forward to the opportunity on Tuesday to reaffirm these principles, which were the basis for the Court of Appeal’s unanimous decision to strike down this forced contracting law,” Schwarz said.
Proceedings are scheduled to start at 9 a.m.